New research reveals the power of persuasive labels

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Personalised and emotive labels will generate a greater loyalty to your product

Psychology has taught us human decision making is not the logical, rational process we once assumed and marketing campaigns increasingly recognise this. From emotive Christmas adverts by the big brands to moving social media campaigns, brands today know emotion trumps reason.

But how does this apply to more practical aspects of business output, such as packaging and product labelling? An advertising campaign allows a lot of freedom to evoke emotion, but when you’ve only got a small space and a lot of required information to get across, how can you ensure a product’s emotional appeal? And what about e-commerce brands; how can a parcel achieve the desired emotional connection with a consumer?

These questions are particularly important for small businesses to get to grips with. When you haven’t got the budget for a big campaign, it’s essential to ensure every element of your business communicates effectively and reaches consumers on an emotional level.

Labelling brand Avery UK recently conducted an in-depth psychological study exploring this very topic. Focusing on small businesses, they sought to uncover just how much labels and label design really matter when it comes to consumer decisions and customer loyalty.

The research

Working with an established behavioural psychologist, Avery UK tested consumer response to small business product and shipping label designs, in order to reveal how certain elements can encourage positive reactions to the items they are attached to. The research included three scientific approaches to understand what makes a successful label, including the use of eye-tracking apparatus in controlled laboratory conditions to trace exactly where a label can lead the eye. No test subjects were a stranger to buying from small businesses. Three online experiments were also conducted, testing 1,108 British adults to examine the more cerebral and behavioural aspects of labels, centred on product labelling, and mailing and shipping labels. In addition, a literature review of 159 academic papers was conducted on existing research to help identify gaps in knowledge and shape the study.

The study explored important aspects for small businesses who sell goods either online or face-to-face. It considered how various label designs affected how much someone was willing to pay, how they made people feel towards a company and how likely test subjects were to make a repeat purchase.

Beyond eye catching

For face-to-face product sales, catching the eye was the natural first step; bright colours and large labels made consumers stop and look, while bold lines, borders and stripes saw a label viewed 42% more than plainer labels nearby. Once a consumer’s attention has been captured, it was found that the best way to hold it and convert it into a desired outcome (purchase or a positive opinion of a brand) is to make the brain think and engage with the product or package. Of course, one of the ways that this can be best achieved is through emotion. Simply making use of emotive words such as ‘love’ or ‘joy’ can spark emotional contagion and ensure this positivity rubs off.

Other conversion tactics include priming, decision-making shortcuts and curiosity. For example, there is a sudden spike in brain activity when we encounter something that needs to be ‘worked out’. Adding a label with a special message like ‘Just for you’ or ‘What’s inside?’ to encourage curiosity can really increase response rates. When Avery UK tested a label that evoked curiosity it increased purchase intentions by 43% and the potential for word-of-mouth recommendation by a significant 103%.

Priming is another essential technique to apply to labels. Consumers will take their cues about how to perceive and respond to an item, such as a parcel or food product from the labels it has. Before they even open it up a label will prime their expectation and level of excitement. The study found labels suggesting high quality can lead to increased product consideration and perception.

Mental heuristics were found to be equally key as well (these are mental shortcuts the human brain uses to quickly make decisions). Incorporating elements such as an endorsement, or even clever use of symbols such as a tick to suggest that the item has passed or reached a certain high standard, could help make all the difference when it comes to a purchasing decision.

Humans are hardwired to notice faces. Eye-tracking experiments revealed that people were 14% more likely than average to look at an item featuring an emoji and 18% more likely to look at a label first if it featured a face. There is also a sudden spike in brain activity when we encounter something which needs to be ‘worked out’. Teaser labels that engage the brain and pose a question, for example, a “What’s inside?” label on a parcel can increase response rates by threefold.

Multiple labels multiply positive results

Among the study’s more intriguing findings was the impact of multiple labels when shipping items. Interestingly for e-commerce brands, using multiple labels on a parcel increased positive emotions in the recipient and led to a higher likelihood of customer loyalty and repeat purchase. In fact, using multiple labels on a shipping package could increase brand love by as much as 129%, perception of quality by 116%, purchase intent by 113% and word of mouth recommendation by 135%.

It seems businesses are missing a trick if they only use one plain address label. It turns out that a package can evoke positive feeling toward a brand just by adding a few extra carefully designed labels. These could include a return address label, which helps to inspire consumer trust as well as a special message label, which is where businesses have a real chance to make an impact.

The research highlighted that adding surprise or curiosity was an effective way of influencing behaviour. Adding labels with a special message for the recipient helps attract attention and can influence future purchase behaviour. Examples of this included adding text labels that say things like ‘Open me’, ‘See what’s inside’, ‘Handmade with love’ or ‘Just for you’. Adding emotion through images or words or a personalised message also proved successful. It seems that personalisation, which has long been a key trend in marketing, applies here too. When a mailing envelope in our study included the participant’s name, they spent 11% longer looking at it than average and were 10% likelier to look at it first.

Labels really do make a difference; the key is to draw a reaction from the recipient, using writing style, images, heuristics and placement, so it's important to note natural human responses when designing your packaging labels. Whichever techniques work for your brand, try to be as creative and personalised as possible to surprise your recipients and display a sense of loyalty.

Karen Fewell is director of food marketing agency Digital Blonde

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